Saturday, September 21, 2013

IM operative started out as a car thief

                                                     Afzal Usmani

Mateen Hafeez TNN



    The escape of suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative, Afzal Usmani (37), raises serious questions about police negligence and security while ferrying such inmates from jail to court and back. 

    Usmani was the first to spill the beans about the IM’s involvement in the 2008 Gujarat blasts after he was arrested in connection with car thefts. The police said his IM bosses gave him a contract to steal four cars along with Mohammed Khan (32) and Ayyub Shaikh (28), both residents of Khazrana, Indore. 

    Khan befriended Usmani at the Arthur Road jail in 2005, they said. After the IM decided to execute blasts in Gujarat, the cops said, it ordered Usmani to arrange for four vehicles.
    Usmani’s career in crime began as a member of a Mumbai underworld gang, the police said. He was a car thief but in 1996 he was booked for an attempt to murder. His name cropped up during investigations into cases of firing in Mumbai. In 1999, he was released on bail by a court in a theft case but the police said he jumped bail and went to Pakistan, from where he was in touch with his bosses on a fake passport. He had also been part of the dreaded Fazl-ur-Rehaman gang, which earned notoriety for extortion. 

    He met Riyaz Bhatkal in Kurla in 2002 and joined hands with him to strengthen his network. By then, Riyaz was also an extortionist, cops said. Riyaz later graduated and joined the IM.
    Usmani, the police said, planted bombs on a car that exploded in 2008; nearly 56 were killed in the blasts and the police found 26 unexploded bombs. 

    Usmani’s arrest in 2008 led to a breakthrough for the Mumbai crime branch, which claimed it had cracked the IM’s Maharashtra module based on his information. The police said the module, including Usmani, was responsible for planting bombs in Jaunpur, Sankat Mochan, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Faizabad and Ahmedabad.   Officials claimed they recovered a cache of explosives and arms from hideouts in Kurla and Sewri, which were enough to cause mayhem in Mumbai.
 
    Usmani’s brother, Faiz, had died after questioning by police in connection with the 2011 Mumbai blasts. The family alleged that he had been tortured but apost-mortem report stated that he died of a heart attack.
 
GIVING POLICE THE SLIP
Afzal Mutalib Usmani (37) | A native of Uttar Pradesh, he came to Mumbai in the early 1990s to earn a living. Unable to find a job, he turned to a life of crime and became a thief. He was spotted by the Fazl-ur-Rehman gang and entrusted with the task of stealing cars for them. In the early 2000s, he came in contact with Indian Mujahideen co-founder Riyaz Bhatkal

 
ALLEGATIONS He is accused of playing a key role in the 2008 Gujarat serial bombings: he allegedly stole four cars for the attack, drove them to Ahmedabad, and planted a bomb in one of the vehicles. He also sent out terror emails before and after the bombings. Besides this, he is an accused in terror conspiracies in Surat (2008), Delhi (2008), Hyderabad (2007), Jaipur (2008) and Bangalore (2008). He is also charged in over 25 cases of theft
 
 
STATUS OF TRIAL Usmani is facing trial in the special MCOCA court for sending out terror mails related to the 2008 Ahmedabad blasts. He was arrested on September 23, 2008, from Kurla. Six judges hearing the case have been transferred over the years; another reason for the delay was that the accused approached the apex court, challenging the application of MCOCA. The charges were to be framed on Friday, but in the light of Usmani’s escape, the matter has been adjourned for a week
 
BROTHER’S DEATH The crime branch detained Usmani’s elder brother Faiz for questioning after the 2011 Mumbai blasts. Faiz, a 43-year-old grocer from Govandi, threw up while in Chembur crime branch’s custody. He was taken to a nearby hospital and then shifted to Sion Hospital. Faiz died there. His wife Ruheda alleged that Faiz was tortured to death. But a CID report gave cops a clean chit; it said that Faiz died because of high blood pressure
 
PAST CASES APRIL 2012 | Double murder accused Vijay Palande escaped from the crime branch’s grip while being taken to its Andheri unit office. He slipped out of a police jeep when a constable sitting next to him got down  to clear the traffic jam  they were stuck in
2010 | Two highprofile gangsters, Sachin Khambe and Mangesh Narkar, managed to escape after throwing chilli
powder at the policemen escorting them in an autorickshaw from Navi Mumbai’s Taloja jail to Nashik central prison
2009 | Haneef Kaliya (32) and his brother Majeed (35) were arrested by the Shivaji Nagar police on charges of robbery and taken to Kurla court. Within 10 minutes of reaching the place, Haneef escaped
2000 | Gangster Imran Mehendi, despite being escorted by policemen, jumped from the third floor of Mazgaon court on seeing a biker appear on the road outside and fled. He was caught later




1 Alleged IM operative Afzal Usmani was brought to the sessions court from Taloja jail around 1pm along with 22 others for framing of charges in a case linked to the 2008 Gujarat blasts. The hearing was scheduled post lunch


2 As the break ended, the supervisor of the cops escorting the accused, API Ram Chopde, asked ASI Sanjay Deshmukh, who was minding Usmani, to find when the hearing will start. By the time Deshmukh returned, Usmani had absconded


3 The court hearing began around 3pm. A police officer informed the public prosecutor that ‘the headcount did not tally’. Names of the accused were called out and the first accused, Usmani, found missing


4 The matter was adjourned until September 27 and charges not framed. The police were put on alert around 3.30pm. Nakabandis were set up and teams sent out to search bus and railway stations 
 
The Times of India, September 21, 2013

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